Federal examiners e-mails show outrage over intervention for OneUnited

We last heard about the ethics charges lodged against Maxine Waters a few months ago, when the House Ethics Committee probe into her intervention on behalf of a bank connected to her husband stalled and two attorneys got suspended.  The focus on budgetary issues pushed the case from the headlines, but it’s back today with an eye-opening exposé in the Washington Post.  According to internal e-mails obtained by the paper, FDIC investigators were livid about the decision to bail out OneUnited, and they knew exactly why it got so much attention:

“There are some really good people expressing very strong opinions regarding what they view as a travesty of justice regarding the special treatment this institution is receiving,” acting regional director John M. Lane warned in a March 2009 e-mail to Christopher J. Spoth, a senior FDIC consumer protection official.

The claim that OneUnited benefited from assistance organized by Waters — whose husband held substantial stock in it — lies at the heart of unresolved House Ethics Committee charges. A special subcommittee alleged last spring that Waters’s actions related to the bank had brought discredit to the House, a claim that she has rejected.

The collapse of OneUnited came despite warnings from the FDIC over the bank’s heavy investment in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the intervention followed soon after.  The FDIC’s staff weren’t fooled by the nature of the intervention, either:

FDIC officials said that he resisted disclosing his decision to invest $50 million in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stock in early 2008 — or about 130 percent of the bank’s core working capital. When they subsequently pressed Cohee to sell the stock, he refused, the officials said. …

On Sept. 7, 2008, the bank’s Fannie and Freddie stock became essentially worthless when they were put into federal conservatorship. The next day, bank executives asked for Waters’s help arranging a meeting with top Treasury Department officials. Waters persuaded Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to convene a Sept. 9 meeting but has said she was trying to help all minority banks punished by the stock devaluation — not specifically OneUnited.

Inside the FDIC, however, officials immediately connected Paulson’s decision with Waters’s family ties to the bank. “Evidently Kevin has called Maxine Waters. … (Is it her husband who is on the board?) … to complain about our mistreatment of the bank,” Doreen Eberly, then regional director, wrote to Boston area director Daniel Frye on Sept. 9. “Yes, husband of Maxine,” replied Frye.

The husband is Sidney Williams.  In June 2008, the last disclosure before the collapse, Williams held a $350,000 stake in OneUnited, which would have meant a whole lot of problems for the family if the bank collapsed.  The FDIC learned that the Congressional Black Caucus — of which Waters is a leading member — planned to hold up the TARP bill unless OneUnited was specifically included in the bailout.  In fact, Barney Frank added that provision, apparently after advising Waters (in vain) to distance herself from the bank.

This case isn’t going away, and the ethics committee might be the least of Waters’ problems if the Department of Justice decides to take a closer look at the activities surrounding OneUnited.  For instance, why did Kevin Cohee buy $50 million in Fannie and Freddie bonds a few months before the collapse when it amounted to “130% of the bank’s core working capital,” according to the Post?  Why did he resist disclosing that purchase, and why did he refuse to divest it when the FDIC flagged the transaction?  What role did Waters have in that arena, given her position on the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees all of these entities?

Update: Forgot to link the story; I’ve added it.

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Jazz Shaw 8:31 AM on December 04, 2022